Unbreakable (US - BD RA)
Gabe's flashing back to the year 2000, when people still liked Shyamalan films
After emerging from a horrific train crash as the sole survivor, without a single scratch on him, troubled family man David Dunn (Bruce Willis) meets a mysterious comic book collector named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). Price believes that comic books are simply dumbed down versions of historical facts, and that real superheroes walk the earth.
If I were forced to choose a favourite M. Night Shyamalan picture I’d probably give the meandering super heroics of Unbreakable a slight edge over the melancholy horrors of The Sixth Sense. It’s hard to look back eight and nine years to a time when Shyamalan was the next big thing in American filmmaking without noticing the structural problems we were all too willing to ignore. Shymalan’s films aren’t aging particularly well, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Unbreakable will continue to find an audience in the future.
Like every one of Shyamalan’s films (that I’ve seen), Unbreakable is consistently guilty of melodrama and awkward dialogue. At the time the director’s penchant for slow pace and long takes wasn’t so prevalent as to become obnoxious. Since then even his fans have to admit that the director’s style has become grating and can spill over into the realms of thorough pretension. It’s hard to look at Unbreakable without thinking of all the problems that followed it, but those of us capable of watching in the moment should still be able to enjoy this cold shower of a super hero movie.
I’m not exactly sure why Unbreakable is such a polarizing film in the director’s canon, or why it was a monetary hiccup between the massive success of The Sixth Sense and Signs. Perhaps it is the film’s insufferably bleak tone or lack of combat, but the fact stands that Unbreakable is likely the most adult and modest exploration of superheroes ever put to film (prove me wrong Zack Snyder, please). The dialogue is awkward and the tone is a bit of a downer, but the melodrama was fresh at the time, and the performances are still very strong. Best of all, the patented Shyamalan twist ending wasn’t a joke yet, and this revelation was a real shocker, ensuring an even more rewarding second viewing experience, especially from the “villain’s” point of view.
Shyamalan’s refusal to show any of the kind of onscreen action that normally goes along with superhero stories is still a pretty fresh way of telling the now over-told tales of comic books. Unbreakable isn’t as enduring as Spider-Man or X-Men 2, but Shyamalan’s faith in his storytelling sets the film apart. Any Brett Ratner or Michael Bay can make an entertaining action movie. Now that the genre has been played raw this film should be revisited, and enjoyed, warts, plot holes, awkward dialogue and all.
Unbreakable is still Shyamalan’s best looking movie, and his only movie to be filmed in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Shyamalan and cinematographer Eduardo Serra didn’t work together ever again, though there are still plenty of trade marked M. Night camera tricks filtered throughout, including the use of slightly opaque reflections, shots taken through bars and shots taken around objects. The fluid camera movement is sort of Kubrick-esque, and coupled with the extra wide aspect ratio makes for some very interesting anti-comic book compositions. Serra and Shyamalan use on screen objects to frame their ‘panels’ rather then the shape of the screen’s frame.
This 1080p Blu-Ray presentation is overall quite impressive with a few minor blemishes throughout. Details aren’t as sharp as some newer releases (the film is eight years old), but you’re sure to see every single pockmark on Sam Jackson’s face, and if you look really close at Willis’ head you might even see a hair. Shyamalan’s general colour pallet is dark and cool, and the overall look is very clean. Grain is very fine, almost non-existent for most of the film, though the day light sky appears slightly dirty. The occasional warm reds and yellows pop cleanly with only slight blooming. The skin tones are the transfers biggest weaknesses – Willis’ flesh is too red, and Jackson’s is slightly too purple.
I’m not sure what to think about the transfer’s contrast levels. The disc is definitely darker then the DVD release, but not so dark as to lose any definition. I can’t recall how dark the film was in theaters, and know that Shyamalan was looking for a distinct pen and ink feel, so I’m very hesitant to call the transfer too dark. Whites bloom a little bit (like eyes and teeth), but again this may be on purpose. Edge enhancement is a slightly noticeable issue.
Even Shyamalan’s weakest films have extremely effective sound designs, and Unbreakable is no exception. Predominately the soundtrack is very subtle, as if the entire city of Philadelphia has been put on some kind of silence curfew. Even James Newton Howard’s score sounds softened as it whispers calmly through all channels, even during the film’s final act ‘action’ scenes, which are played ‘heroic’, but not ‘action’. Though not so imbued thematically with elements of horror as the directors other features, Unbreakable uses this subtle smoothness as a spring board for some big ‘boo’ scares on the audio track. These scares usually come in the form of David Dunn’s visions, which simply erupt in audio fury, almost ear splittingly so. I still lack the capabilities to check Blu-Ray discs out with uncompressed Dolby Digital tracks, but this solid Dolby Digital EX track will do just fine.
This is the very epitome of a library re-release. The extras are straight from the previous Vista Series release, including the anamorphically enhanced, 480i video and 2.0 sound. The only difference is the menu system. Things begin with a fourteen plus minute making of exploration. It’s a really quick trip through the production, but it’s more personal then most EPKs, and includes interviews with crew beyond the producer and director.
‘Comic Books and Superheroes’ is a twenty minute featurette where Samuel Jackson is let loose on his love of the comic medium. Comic mainstays Will Eisner (The Spirit), Frank Miller (Sin City, The Dark Knight Returns), and Alex Ross (Kingdom Come) are also interviewed, along with comic experts and enthusiasts like Trina Robbins and Scott McCloud. The production is pretty flat, and the facts have been driven into the ground over the last few decades (ever since comic books were finally accepted by mainstream America as a real art form), but the featurette is still entertaining and education.
There are seven deleted scenes, totaling almost 30 minutes, all with (super pretentious) introduction by Shyamalan, and all entirely unnecessary to an already nearly overlong film. The multi-angle ‘Train Station Sequence’ featurette hasn’t been updated for the new format in any way, and in fact, I couldn’t get the angles to work at all on my player (my DVD still works fine). I’m not sure if this was a compatibility issue or a case of bad authoring. Things come to a close with a scene from one of Shyamalan’s childhood films, a cute addition that I’m not sure he’s kept up on since I haven’t seen any of his films beyond Signs on DVD.
Unbreakable will probably continue to deteriorate over the next decade, but I still say it’s worth its fair shake. Looking at the atrocity that was Heroes I can see that things could’ve been a lot worse. This Blu-Ray release isn’t really a necessity for anyone other then the film’s biggest fans, but the upgrade is definitely noticeable.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 1st April 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: PCM 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Making Of Featurette, Comic Books and Superheroes, Deleted Scenes, Multi-Angle Featurette, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Charlayne Woodard, Spencer Treat Clark
Genre: Drama, Mystery and Thriller
Length: 106 minutes
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